Employees have the potential to be exposed to fall risks every working day. This problem is not isolated to one type of industry or one type of employee. It is a risk that all employers face.
Same-level falls and falls to lower levels are the second-leading cause of lost work time injuries and deaths, respectively, in the United States. To help decrease the nearly 6,000 injuries and 30 deaths annually due to falls, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a final rule on November 18, 2016, that improves walking-working surface rules and establishes a fall protection standard for general industry.
Summary of Major Changes
- All walking-working surfaces must be inspected regularly to ensure they are free of contaminants, defects or other imperfections that could contribute to a slip, trip or fall injury
- Any walking-working hazards that are discovered must be corrected or guarded to prevent anyone from walking on them until the hazard is removed
- Requirements for all types of ladders have been revised and consolidated
- Vertical clearances in stairways have been modified
- Scaffold requirements now mirror those used in construction industries
- Requirements for the use of Rope Descent Systems have been added
- Employers now have more options to guard fall-from-height hazards
- New performance, care and use criteria for all personal fall protection systems has been added
Revisions to the walking-working surface standard were first proposed in 1990. They were revised in 2003 and re-proposed in 2010. The final rule is applicable to all general industry employers and covers a variety of walking-working surfaces including:
- Elevated work surfaces
Incorporating best practices from more than 30 industry consensus standards, the rule is performance based, giving employers greater flexibility to correct walking-working surface hazards in a manner that best suits their workplace and working conditions. General industry workplaces now also have specific fall from height rules that closely mirror the fall from heights regulations that have been preventing construction injuries and deaths for decades.
Walking-Working Surfaces Defined
All general industry workplaces and walking-working surfaces are covered under the rule, unless they have been specifically excluded. OSHA defines a walking-working surface as:
“Any horizontal or vertical surface on or through which an employee walks, works or gains access to a work area or workplace location.”
In this definition, OSHA clarifies that it is not just floors where workers perform a work duty. Building entrances, hallways, aisles, breakrooms, locker rooms, cafeterias and other areas in and outside the facility are also included.
Slips and falls to the same level can occur anywhere. This increased definition of what constitutes a walking-working surface should prompt employers to be more aware of the need to take a facility-wide approach to fall prevention and not isolate efforts solely to production or other areas of their facility.
General Requirements [29 CFR 1910.22]
Since the first walking-working surface rule was published in the early 1970s, employers have been required to maintain their workplace in a clean, orderly and sanitary condition. Specifically, workroom floors have always been required to be kept clean and dry. In areas that can’t be kept dry, OSHA required mats, platforms or elevated work surfaces.